Charles Townsend, European regional manager, SmartWood Program, Rainforest Alliance, takes issue with comments made by the TTF’s head of public affairs Mark O’Brien

I was dismayed, although not altogether surprised, by Mark O’Brien’s statement, that the Timber Trade Federation “will be pressing the government not to adopt a de facto certified timber only policy”.

It is ironic that the two reasons put forward by Mr O’Brien to justify this intended course of action are in fact the very reasons why government should adopt such a policy!

To say that the current supply of certified timber is “currently relatively small” indicates that Mr O’Brien has not done his homework. The percentage of wood from certified forests actually being sold as certified products has been estimated to be in single figures. The problem is demand, not supply.

Over the past couple of years SmartWood has certified well over 1 million ha of forest in the Baltic states and issued chain of custody certificates to nearly 40 sawmills in the UK, Ireland and the Baltic states with a total capacity of well over 2 million m3 per year, in every conceivable grade and size. There are more or less unlimited supplies of FSC-certified logs for all but one or two of these mills.

When we come to conduct our annual audits of these sawmills we are consistently presented with the same complaint: “Why is no-one asking us for certified timber?”

SmartWood is investing considerable resources into helping to build certified suppy chains and create awareness of available certified products, for the benefit of its clients and the forest products industry as a whole, but we cannot succeed without a market that demands our clients’ certified products. Trying to push certified timber into the market is like pushing string – uphill! Without market ‘pull’ the benefits of certification will not materialise.

So let us be clear that there is no shortage of certified softwood.

There is also no shortage of certified hardwoods, both temperate and tropical. True, many of the well-known tropical species are not available from certified forests, for the simple reason that the forests are not certifiable and often badly managed. However, there are numerous non-traditional species that perform as well as or better than the recognised names, and are available from FSC-certified forests in developing countrires. Price, quality and availability are all acceptable in most cases.

I prefer to review government policy in terms of what it supports rather than what it discriminates against. Should it support existing forestry, logging and trading practices without question, as long as they are described as ‘sustainable’ by the vendor; or should it support independently certified forest management and the timber from those forests?

Environment minister Michael Meacher and his colleagues have talked a good story since taking up the reins of government. It is now time to ‘walk the talk’. The certified supply chains are ready and waiting!